The Legend of the $1 Trillion Platinum Coin


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You may have heard that a deadline to suspend the debt ceiling is rapidly approaching, and if lawmakers don’t do anything it could lead to “economic catastrophe,” in the words of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

But what if we told you there was a solution to the debt ceiling fiasco so crazy…it just might work?

The solution: Yellen could have the Treasury mint a $1 trillion platinum coin, deposit it at the Fed to “retire” loads of US federal debt, and then enable the government to carry on with business as usual without having to worry about defaulting on its existing debt.

But can the Treasury really do that? Yes. According to Section 31 US Code § 5112

  • “The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”

The law is crystal clear, and has been deemed kosher by numerous academics. “The statute clearly does authorize the issuance of trillion-dollar coins,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law professor, told Washington Monthly back in 2013.

In fact, nothing says we have to stop at $1 trillion. Yellen could go big with a $10 trillion coin, hypothetically. As Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal explains, none of this would lead to inflation because it’s merely an “accounting trick”—not an influx of money into the economy.

Have we tried this before? The $1 trillion platinum coin idea seems to pop up every time the US faces a debt ceiling crunch. It was first introduced by a Georgia lawyer in 2010 and gained traction during the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011.

Things really turned up in 2013, when the government was…you guessed it, facing another debt ceiling deadline. The hashtag #MintTheCoin became popular on Twitter, and economists like Paul Krugman advocated for unleashing the coin. “If we have a crisis over the debt ceiling, it will be only because the Treasury Department would rather see economic devastation than look silly for a couple of minutes,” he wrote.

But each time the $1 trillion coin is mentioned as a way of resolving debt ceiling problems, the people in charge dismiss it as a distraction from Congress doing its job. “Neither the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to produce platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” The Treasury wrote during…well, yes, another debt ceiling emergency in 2015.

As for our current predicament, the Biden administration rejected the minting of the $1 trillion coin yet again last week.


Bottom line: Perhaps some enterprising future Treasury Secretary will manifest the platinum coin into existence, but for now it remains as mythical as Camelot.




Your comments are appreciated.




One Response

  1. Government shutdown

    It was avoided with hours to spare. Biden signed a stopgap spending bill that extends government spending through Dec. 3, when Congress will have to figure out another short- or long-term solution.

    Debt ceiling

    Congress has until Oct. 18 to suspend or raise the debt ceiling before the US begins defaulting on its loans, an outcome that would likely be catastrophic for the economy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning a vote on the debt ceiling as soon as next week.

    For her part, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen never wants to hear the word “debt ceiling” again—yesterday she told lawmakers the US should abolish the concept of a borrowing limit.

    OR – maybe she could just mint the coin?



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